Every month, Aunty Ifeka made her chickens walk through puddles of colouring, from which they emerged squawking, pink-shod and unmistakably branded.
Ezinne enjoyed watching their bright pink feet against the dull grey concrete, on the mornings when she let them out to wander in the compound while she cleaned out their coop.
One day, a chicken emerged with a limp.
It stood by the coop on the better leg, the left one, and watched her. She turned to see the round, seemingly startled right eye, focused on her.
"Why are you looking at me?"
For a second, a flicker of fear appeared in the glassy void of the eye, before the chicken limped away and back into the throng of the other wanderers.
What was worse was that, upon returning them to the coop, there was no longer a limping chicken.
That evening, Mazi Linus, the man with strange stories to his name, visited. He had been away for months and Ezinne wondered whether it was he who had stolen the limping chicken, causing it to disappear into his stomach on returning hungry from his trip.
She would have felt better if that had been the case.
When Aunty let him in, she could not say for sure which she saw first: his glistening sideward glance with a flicker of fear, the hint of a pink toe from the crack in his shoe, or the way he limped into the sitting room, leaning on his left foot.
#WriterPrompt is a flash fiction event run on our Facebook page. Writers post stories in response to a visual prompt and then workshop them with other participants and members of the SSDA team. This bout of story writing was especially competitive. Jason Mykl Snyman elaborates on the difficulty of choosing one story over all the others and speaks to Ifeanyi about what inspired her winning story.
"In the Chinese Zodiac, the year 2017 is marked as a year of the Rooster. The wise are the roosters of the universe, they awaken the unawake. You all know roosters, they herald a new dawn. New beginnings. For this prompt, we chose the image of the rooster – with its bright colours and its long tail and its fiery temperament – because we all need a new beginning. 2016 was a tough one, and though 2017 may have gotten off to a shaky start (for many, this year of Donald Trump’s inauguration will forever be remembered as the year of the Cock) – but hopefully, wherever you are right now, the sun is breaking over the horizon.
We weren’t looking for anything in particular in the interpretations of the prompt. I had a tough time choosing a winner this time, they were all so original, so well-written and so entertaining.
Here are some honourable mentions:
Osahon Ize-Iyamu gave us a beautifully crafted philosophical piece. Every line read like poetry, and it chilled us and moved us. Erhu Amreyan transported us into the mind of a tortured painter. Jeremy Gilmer turned the norms upon their head and gave us an often frightening piece with a surprising finale, and Zithulele Sibanyoni gave us witty wordplay in what was probably the most complete interpretation of a prompt I’ve ever seen.
However, I finally settled on the work of Ifeanyi Abiodun Ibegbu. She delivered a fun little story, well-executed with vivid imagery and it was simple enough in premise to keep me wanting more. The ending though, is perfection. Did Mazi Linus, the man with strange stories to his name, steal and eat the limping chicken and so take on its characteristics – or – was Mazi Linus the limping chicken all along? Only Aunty Ifeka and Ifeanyi will ever know – and I pray they never tell, because there’s real magic in this tale." - Jason Mykl Snyman
Ifeanyi, congratulations on winning #WriterPrompt 16. That was no small feat, considering the competition. Tell us a little bit about this story, where did the idea come from and what was the inspiration behind Mazi Linus?
IFEANYI: Thank you very much! I’m really thrilled to have emerged winner- it’s a pretty big thing to fully digest, haha! Initially, I wasn’t very certain where the story came from. A lot of my stories often tend to feel as though they simply strolled into my head, but I’ve given it deeper thought, and come to realise that my relationship with chickens had a lot to do with it.
They have always held some fascination for me, especially since I only really get to study them up close once a year. Christmas in Nigeria is often not complete without the purchase of a live chicken to be slaughtered on the Eve. Before it’s killed though, the chicken is almost a part of the family, having to be fed and watered all in the few days leading up to the slaughter. In the process of encountering these chickens every Christmas, I’ve come to notice this demeanour they have, with one eye keenly watching you, and their heads slightly cocked so that they appear to be deeply concerned and mysterious. When I think of chickens, it’s that stare that is evoked, and there’s a subtle human quality to it, and this is what I think gave birth to the person of Mazi Linus, who is both man and chicken. I guess it’s this personal history with chickens that was the subliminal source of the story- the way chickens look at you, and what it could mean, and playing around with what lies behind the glances.
Tell us some more about yourself. Where are you from, what do you do and when did your writing journey begin?
IFEANYI: I’m Igbo, from Onitsha in Nigeria. I’d say my life is currently in a kind of limbo - I’ve just completed a Bachelor’s degree and in a few months I’ll be compulsorily ‘serving’ the nation for a year. So presently, I’m just a reader, writer, internet crawler and gig-seeker. My writing is something I’ve carried with me through all the stages of my life that as far back as I can remember. As soon as I could write by hand, I started putting down the stories in my head. The compulsion has evolved though: I’ve gone from writing to re-create the things I read, to writing to escape reality, and just create the world I wanted to be in, and now, writing about the world that I know and have known, and really coming to terms with my knowledge and perception of this world. These days, it’s also the way I bleed.
What’s your favourite painting of all time, and why?
IFEANYI: This is a tough one. I haven’t extensively explored visual arts (just some random appreciation), but the Mona Lisa has held my fascination for a very long time, and probably won’t stop. I like the enigmatic quality of the painting - you can’t exactly tell what’s happening there, and it appears as if the woman in the painting is the only one who’s sure of herself. In a way, it mirrors my aspirations to be somewhat inexplicable, to be that person who has to let you in on the secret before you can really know it, and also to be someone who’s right in the centre of the turmoil, but still separate from it, with a very collected and self-assured manner. The Mona Lisa appears to have the kind of inner peace that I’m hoping to find.
Ifeanyi Abiodun Ibegbu is a Nigerian writer who finds both courage and solace in stringing words together, with the hope that this will help her make sense of life, and achieve success through their impact. When she remembers to, she blogs at www.lapenseuse21.wordpress.com. She loves art, sugar and sleep, and also enjoys talking and thinking.
Interview by Jason Mykl Snyman